Stray Observations with Jonathan Crayford

ARTS, Features, Interviews, Music
Jonathan Crayford is considered one of New Zealand’s greatest jazz musicians, the Mike Houston of jazz piano. Trinity Roots—who he has performed with— are one group who praise his virtuosity. In between living in Paris and Vienna, Crayford is home for summer gigs:

What’s the best/worst thing about living in Paris for two years?

The best thing was the coming of spring and all those beautiful women flowering after the winter. The worst thing was the energy it takes to establish yourself in a new big city. I’ve done that several times now. Paris is very beautiful and demanding.

Tell me about one of your favourite music venues in Paris?

I like Bellevilloise—old and big and has a good cafe too—or Bataclan, which is similar without the cafe. They remind me of places I ran around in as a kid, like the Opera House in Wellington.

What do you think about this New Yorker article about France’s economic malaise/Gerard Depardieu?

There’s a lot of truth in that. The French love fighting with themselves like that—lots of honour at stake. But it won’t really make a difference in the long run. If there is one thing you can’t change in France, it’s the importance of the rights of the people to have rights, no matter who they are. They are very proud of being proud.

Tell me about a formative influence who still inspires your sweet style?

I think I’m very influenced by Monk but I try not to be any more. At a certain point I stopped wanting to discover how someone else did what they did because I had to find fresh new territory to explore myself.

What do you hope the audience take away from your new CD?

Well, Concierto en la Iglesia was recorded live in a very special and dramatic place. A sense of wonder and drama I hope. It’s what I was consumed with as I played this concert.

How did being in Paris influence it?

This CD was recorded in Spain in a very old church belonging to a village on the northern coast called Cadaqués. I was influenced by my time in Spain and the crazy wonderful people there, and a very dramatic thing that happened, a tragedy of love.

I loved New York in August. You lived there eight years. What makes it unique?

Its madness makes it unique, and all the risks involved with doing what you do there. It’s charged with special energy and a lot of people working very hard on their music, art or whatever. Good, good music. I have a chamber project which I started in New York last year, chamber music played by musicians who can also take solos and improvise.

It was great seeing The Roots in New York. How was it working with Questlove on Afropicks?

He’s a hard worker, very thorough and aware of a lot of different music. I didn’t have to do much—just gave him the charts that I was involved in preparing. He liked an arrangement I worked on and moved it up in the show. Very easy to work with. The actual musical direction came from David Murray. I was his assistant on that gig which was called Questlove’s Afropicks, and that concept of taking the AfroBeat music from the ’70s, modernising it and bringing in African American artists from other parts of the musical spectrum—R&B, Funk, Rap, etc. I was more working with David on that gig—not so much Questlove, but he takes it seriously and does a fantastic job as a result. There were two other singers on that gig I thought were great and I loved working with them. Amp Fiddler from Detroit, an ex Parliament Funkadelician who was the cat who showed J. Dilla how to work an MPC—a lot of people out there will know what that means. The other is a beautiful singer from Mali—Mamani Keita. She’s based in Paris. It was a pretty major production.

What did Bruno Lawrence teach you about performing?

He taught me to give what you would normally hold back—because maybe you are shy. He always encouraged people to reveal themselves.

A memorable film composition project?

Well, there is one piece I quite liked writing that underscored a scene in Gaylene Preston’s Ruby and Rata. It’s when the old lady reminisces about the war and I wrote a very hymn-like piece—scored for strings and wind. I also enjoyed working very much with Bruno Lawrence on a score for a film by Lynton Buttler called Pallet On The Floor—a Ronald Hugh Morrieson story. That was a bit of an adventure. At one point Bruno wanted to put our whole music budget on a trifecta and I thought it was a good idea because it was so small. But we thought better not, and kept driving to the studio.

Describe your creative style?

My creative style? I’m not sure. I know that I spend a lot of time thinking about things before I commit them to paper so to speak. But I work better in the moment though so having said that I have developed a way of kind of having a prepared explosion, a period of preparation and then—bam—it all comes out.

How’s it playing with Ahori Buzz?

I am playing at Homegrown and WOMAD with Ahori Buzz. Aaron and the band put out a lot of energy—I like that. It’s like playing with a tribe of Indians from the mountains. Aaron would probably describe them as Hori homos from New Zealand. I suppose, in the end, music has something which is very rare and important. A language that transcends all boundaries.

Updated: Jonathan Crayford performs with Rio Hunuki-Hemopo at the delightful Newtown Festival on March 3, 2013. Photograph by Tiffani Amo.
Jonathan Crayford’s latest albums are the improvised solo concert, ‘Concierto en la Iglesia’, and the jazz trio, ‘Our Own Sweet Way’, appearing with Roger Sellers and Paul Dyne.
Alexander Bisley is currently completing an article on Electric Wire Hustle family, also featuring at WOMAD 2013. He recently profiled DJ Sir-vere, and is looking forward to watching/interviewing Savage at Homegrown.
Filed under: ARTS, Features, Interviews, Music


Alexander Bisley is an editor-at-large who has contributed in-depth interviews and more to The Lumière Reader since 2004. He’s written extensively on culture (and sport) for all of New Zealand’s leading outlets, and also makes his living freelancing for international publications including The Guardian, Slate, and The AV Club. He’s published by The Independent, BBC, Vice, The Sydney Morning Herald, Playboy, and Slate France, and has been paid once by The New Yorker.